AA fter months of thorough financial projections in the midst of the current pandemic, top Seventh-day Adventist administrators at the Inter-American Division (IAD) were able to accurately assess the decline in income contributions from the vast territory in order to better implement plans to reduce costs.
According to IAD Treasurer Filiberto Verduzco, there was a decline of 31 percent in tithe and offering contributions during the past three months. The fact that churches have not been able to collect tithe and offering every Sabbath because of the lockdown, and rising unemployment among members, are main contributors to the decline in funds, he said.
Among the biggest challenges is making the church’s Ecclesia7–the electronic remittance system software that accurately accounts for tithes and offerings submitted at the local church and to higher organizations throughout the IAD– accessible to members to submit their contributions online. Software developers are working to make it available throughout the countries in Inter-America before the end of the year, Verduzco said.
“We are facing a big challenge,” said Verduzco, as he addressed IAD union administrators and department heads during a recent video conference. “We have to adjust our financial strategy and move responsibly to ensure what the future holds.” It’s the most difficult financial situation facing the IAD in nearly 30 years, even with the recession that jolted the territory in 2008, with its fluctuating currencies, added Verduzco.
“Cut to the bone”
“We have to cut to the bone,” he said. “The threads to the next quinquennium are real and we must make additional adjustments to continue fulfilling the mission of the church.” Travel budgets as well as official division events and meetings scheduled across the territory remain canceled. Union and conference business sessions, which require IAD leadership presence according to policy, are postponed until 2021.
Adjustments to the operating income saw the IAD treasurer pointing to the reduction of budget appropriations this year to the Inter-American Theological Seminary, Herbert Fletcher University, departments’ general expenses, as well as several programs and initiatives, among others.
Appropriations to the 24 unions, or major Church regions, would not be affected for 2020, stated Verduzco. “We have been able to care for our working capital constantly every year, but the capital is being affected by the investments.” Adjusting to reality is not a suggestion, he said.
“The worst we can do is to do nothing,” said Verduzco. “We must implement changes.” Implementing change has been ongoing since Verduzco sent a six-page letter to IAD union and institution administrators.
In the letter, dated April 8, 2020, administrators detailed a number of suggested measures to implement in their territories to mitigate the financial impact church organizations would face amid the lockdown of the pandemic crisis.
At the top of the list of suggestions, Verduzco encouraged leaders to maintain a permanent prayer chain among members for God’s protection over the Church. “Emphasize reinforcing the spiritual environment among members,” stated the letter.
Caring for the spiritual needs of the members is vital during uncertain times, said Verduzco. “The church member in Inter-America is the most valuable element to further the mission of the Church, so we must care for them very carefully.”
Responsible in managing funds
“We need to be very careful how we are managing the funds that are coming in because there’s a level of responsibility that lies on our shoulders,” added Verduzco. “I have seen how God has blessed this Church immensely during the past 20 years and we have the assurance that the Lord keeps leading and providing for His people, so we must continue to rely on Him and continue adjusting responsibly to continue moving forward in mission.”
Mission-driven initiatives continue to be a top priority for the Church in Inter-America, leaders said. Keeping the expenses to a minimum, adjusting employees’ allowances but not their rent and medical allowance, modifying employees’ salary percentages, cutting general expenses, and reducing staff may be measures to get to, stated Verduzco.
Realities in the territory
Pierre Caporal, president of the Church in Haiti, reported 50 to 65 percent less income from churches, especially in certain regions of the country. “We have seen the contributions affected not only because of the Covid-19 pandemic but because of the political situation affecting church members, particularly in schools and the university,” said Caporal.
Administrators in El Salvador have seen a decline in contributions of 40 percent, which has driven them to reduce allowances to employees across organizations and schools. “We trust that the Lord continues to sustain His Church while we continue to work in the mission, with programs and initiatives, baptizing more into the Church.
Similarly, Isaías Espinoza, president of the Church in Southeast Mexico, said that adjustments to employees’ allowances and salaries had to be implemented months ago due to the decrease of contributions from the churches. “That letter with suggestions to adjust expenses from Pastor Verduzco came really on time because we quickly had to face the challenges of the significant decline in income,” said Espinoza.
Even after Hurricane Maria and earthquakes which devastated Puerto Rico, Jose Alberto Rodriguez, president of the Church in Puerto Rico, said 90 percent of the tithe and offering income has been consistently collected during the past few months. “I can’t explain it, but God has blessed us,” said Rodríguez. “We haven’t had to reduce any of our employees’ salary, schools continue to run online, and while some churches are damaged, church members continue to bring their tithe and offering.”
In the same way, Paulino Puello, president of the Church in the Dominican Republic, said the Church has been able to collect 90 percent of the contributions they normally collect now that churches have partially reopened and many members are bringing in the tithe and offering they have saved since March. “We praise God that all of our pastors and employees have received their monthly salary as well as the 1,080 teachers working in the Adventist Education system,” said Puello.
Like all of the 24 unions across the IAD territory, assistance to needy church members was immediately available for weeks as many faced unemployment during the lockdown.
IAD and union administrators will continue to closely monitor the financial environment throughout the territory and implement additional changes to lower expenses as needed, said Verduzco. Verduzco has been meeting online with union treasurers and staff several times a month to monitor financial activity and action plans to better manage the financial system across the territory.
“Our priority still remains caring for our church members, that the mission moves forward uninterrupted and appropriations to the territory continue to support operations,” Verduzco said.
Elie Henry, president of the Church in Inter-America, told leaders that although the Church is facing a critical time, there is no need to be alarmed. “We just need to plan with eyes wide open,” said Henry. “When we consider the waves that may be coming our way, we have to be ready like a good surfer who assesses the waves that come his way.”
“God has a plan for His Church, and you are all here because you are part of God’s plan to advance His mission at times like these,” Henry said.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America oversees more than 23,000 churches and congregations across 42 countries and islands from Mexico, Central American, and the Caribbean, to the French Antilles, Colombia, and Venezuela.
To learn more about the Inter-American Division, it’s programs and initiatives, visit interamerica.org.